Populism is a term with a complex and not altogether wholesome legacy. At one level, it refers to representing the interests of ordinary people. But it has also been used to refer to pandering to the base instincts of the mob. Tom Watson of Georgia was a leader of the Populist Party in the early 20th century who is now remembered most for his virulent appeals to racism and anti-Semitism. So I guess you might say that populism is in the eye of the beholder — either an idealistic rejection of the powerful or a crass effort to exploit popular prejudice for personal or political gain.I'm disappointed they didn't ask someone at UW-Madison. Wisconsin has had its own history of populism, and it's been by and large a unique and distinguished version of the trend. Indeed, Wisconsin bucked the trend of agrarian populism, instead drawing on labor in heavily industrialized Milwaukee and Badger miners, which in many ways would become the template for the Democratic populism we see today -- a focus on unions and labor.
Then, of course, there was Fighting" Bob Lafollette, who founded one of the lasting political faces of progressive populism -- the Wisconsin Idea:
In Wisconsin, La Follette developed the techniques and ideas that made him a nationwide symbol of Progressive reform and made the state an emblem of progressive experimentation. The Wisconsin Idea, as it came to be called, was that efficient government required control of institutions by the voters rather than special interests, and that the involvement of specialists in law, economics, and social and natural sciences would produce the most effective government.He is something of a contradiction: he established the progressivism that the Democrats have since claimed -- but which he created as a Republican. His political career thus hints at the populisms of both right and left, the back-to-religion, kick-out-the-"beltway insiders" brand embodied by the Tea Party as well as the the pro-regulatory focus of the self-styled Progressives.
Politico does a disservice to the understanding of populism by not getting to the heart of Bob La Follette.